As you may know, Seven Generations Ahead celebrated our 20th anniversary this year. Although the pandemic continued to disrupt daily life in 2021, SGA remained steadfast in its work to build sustainable communities. From our work to drive onsite solar installations in Chicago Public Schools and other local school districts and community institutions, to fantastic participation in this year’s Great Apple Crunch and increased procurement of local food through our 16-year-old Farm to School program, to the relaunch of zero waste programs across many schools, to a sold out GreenTown Rockford conference, to an impactful trip to this year’s UN Climate Summit (COP26) with Chicago area youth from our It’s Our Future program, to our partnerships supporting mutual aid groups working to recover food through food hub development in neighborhoods most in need, we were as busy as ever – but with a renewed commitment to urgency and bold action. 

As I flew over the Atlantic Ocean above an endless pillow of clouds, returning from COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, I couldn’t help thinking about perspective. Seeing the world from high places has always fascinated and inspired me. As a former international organizational development and leadership consultant, I was reading daily about countless global environmental tragedies. I’ll never forget learning about a flock of 300 pelicans that circled continuously, confused about whether to migrate due to unusually warm temperatures, eventually plunging to their deaths out of exhaustion. My oldest child was 4 years old at the time. I thought: what if he asks me when he gets older if I chose to do anything about this environmental mess I saw coming? If I didn’t have a solid answer to that question, I felt like I would’ve lost integrity. That was 28 years ago.

It took me 8 years before I eventually pulled together a concept for a non-profit that would address global environmental issues on a local level. In my research, I learned of the Iroquois principle about making decisions considering the impact on the next seven generations. Twenty years ago, Seven Generations Ahead was born.

As I reflect on our growth, when it was only me the first few years working out of my basement, I recall how dissatisfied I was with SGA’s progress. I didn’t have delusions of grandeur about building a massive organization, nor strong ego, because I always felt that it would “take a village” to address the environmental crisis. Nevertheless, I felt we could do more to create greater change.

My dissatisfaction has, of course, dissipated. But, my desire to generate the most impact with the resources and talents we have available has only grown. SGA is now a highly-respected organization in the sustainability space, influencing decision-makers and advocates throughout the public, community, and private sectors.

And the “me” of early days has beautifully transformed into a “we.” Long-term board members – including founding board member and SGA president Mark Ledogar, whose 20 years of service has propelled SGA forward – and new board members contribute to the success of the organization. Our staff and consultants have tremendous expertise and have made significant impact. And we have amazing partners with whom we’ve created new projects and initiatives that truly move the needle on sustainability. I’m thrilled that this year we were able to bring five high school seniors to COP26, staying true to the part of our mission focused on building the next generation of sustainability leaders.

We need discerning and courageous leadership in this time. Feel good projects and molasses change are not going to get this done. We need to do more measuring and less patting ourselves on the back as environmental advocates, so we know if we are truly moving in the right direction. People frequently ask each other about hope in this era when the climate crisis has become so urgent and dire. I believe that we need to lead with hope, swing the bat hard and relentlessly, be critical of and restless about the pace of progress we’re making, and be committed to building an all-inclusive team of players that solve this crisis swiftly and equitably.

As we mark twenty years as an organization, I’d like to thank all who have supported our efforts, all who have made Seven Generations Ahead what it is today, and all who are working side by side with us to do our collective parts to solve our environmental crises. And I’d like to especially thank our young people who have changed the conversation and who are diving into the fight against the climate crisis head first.

We’re glad to be on this collective team with you and we hope you’ll continue to join us in the years to come. We’re fighting hard and committing to hope as we enter into a new year and a new decade for SGA.